4 Steps to Defining Your Startup’s Culture (and Why It’s Important)

Bastiaan Janmaat
May 12, 2015 · 4 min read

Almost two years in, we couldn’t be prouder of the team we’ve put together. Cliche perhaps, but 100% true: team is everything. It drives the quality of our product, the delight of our customers, our ability to keep hiring top talent, and — most importantly — how rewarding it feels to be in the trenches together day-in day-out.

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We realized recently that, while our culture drives everything we do, we haven’t documented it anywhere. If someone asked each of us how we’d describe our culture, our descriptions would look something like an atom; distinct perspectives centered around a shared nucleus containing all the real weight.

We wanted to bring definition to that nucleus: how do we collectively describe the core of what it means to be on this team?

So over lunch one day, we gathered in front of a whiteboard and put our heads together, drawing from Google Ventures’ design methodology.

Step 1: Idea Collection

All of our teammates were given post-it notes to jot down thoughts in response to four high-level questions:

  1. What are you motivated by?
  2. What do you enjoy doing?
  3. What makes us great?
  4. What do we want to achieve?

These questions were meant only to spur thoughts. Of course there’s a lot of overlap between those questions, and they are by no means exhaustive.

For about 10 minutes we contributed our ideas.

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It was awesome to see how how much overlap emerged from the team:

Step 2: Voting

With so many great contributions on the whiteboard, our next step was to surface the ones that resonated strongest. Each teammate was given five stickers; you could vote on five different post-its (including your own) or put multiple stars on the same post-it.

It got a little crowded around the whiteboard, but it’s essential that we all do this at the same time, in order to minimize the effect of previous votes on your voting.

It helps to have someone read off all the post-its beforehand, so people have a general sense of what’s up there.

Step 3: Consolidation

At this point, one person needs to drive but it’s still a team effort: consolidate all the starred post-its around common themes. Simply cluster them on the whiteboard. The whole team should help suggest what goes where, and simultaneously suggest the common themes, which can be written above each cluster.

We kept it to one word per cluster, but you can use phrases; up to your team!

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Step 4: Your Culture, Summarized

That’s pretty much it. We all took a step back and marveled at the breadth of and overlap in our definitions of what drives us.

Here’s what we came to — our definition of the nucleus of DataFox’s culture:

We care about building a team of high-performers, covering each other’s backs, constantly learning, and delighting our customers by solving hard problems.


Constant Learning

Solving Hard Problems

Delighting our Customers

This is just a work-in-progress, a first cut. Like everything we do, we expect to come back to this often, to make it better and better and account for things we learn along the way.

Still, there’s something exhilarating about getting these values down on “paper,” as it gives shape to sentiments that we feel, working on this team together, but can’t always readily put into words.

PS: we’re looking for new teammates to join us. Check out our openings here and shoot us an email if you’d like to learn more!’

UPDATE: our latest team pic, below!

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DataFox Digest

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